Churches across the land are struggling with the question: “should we open or should we not?” One line of argument is: “You don’t need special words, a special place, special objects or special people to talk to God. God loves you and is listening. So just do it. The church buildings may be shut, but the ears of Heaven aren’t.” All of that is of course true, however, the spirituality that we’ve inherited in the Episcopal Tradition isn’t simply about an individual, personal, relationship with God. Our tradition is centred around a Community relationship with God and with each other, culminating in our sharing in the Eucharist together; entering into the Community of the Trinity which lies at the very heart of our faith.
Much of St Paul’s writing is to and about Community. For Paul Salvation is the work of God that brings people into a right relationship with both God and with one another. In brief, we’re being saved from the broken relationships with God and each other that can and do unleash the forces of sin and death in the world.
At times, Christians have sometimes reduced Paul’s message of salvation to something like: “Believe in Jesus, have a personal relationship with Him and you’ll go to heaven when you die.” This is true, as far as it goes, but … in his letters, Paul never stops talking about relationships among people and between people and the rest of God’s creation, as he wrote in his letter to the Colossians:
“Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body.” Col 3:13-15
Paul emphasises the multiplicity of gifts in the Body of Christ, the Community of Faith, and that one part of a body can’t operate alone but all parts need to work harmoniously together, no part being superior to any other.
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. … For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” 1 Cor 12
A couple of weeks back, St Finnbarr’s and St Andrew’s started opening for what the Scottish Government calls ‘Individual Prayer’, however our opening shouldn’t be viewed through the lens of ‘privatised prayer’. In order to be able to open, the members of those two Communities have had to work hard together to put in place plans and prepare the buildings, so that those using them can do so safely. People from within and beyond our Church Communities have appreciated our hospitality in opening them and several people have felt able to take their first steps outside their homes in four months, into the sanctuary of well prepared spaces, where prayer has been offered by the Community for well over a century.
In the coming weeks, some of our congregations will be able to meet again for services of worship and for that we should give thanks, but there’s still much to do to create the environment needed. So as we look towards opening buildings for worship, we do so as a Community working together. The challenge is, as it was in opening for Individual Prayer, to provide a prayerful, safe environment. Unless we can achieve that we’ll remain closed. Finding God in Prayer and Worship is surely more likely at home, than in an environment that looks like a combination of a crime scene, a shop and a hospital.
What we need to keep uppermost in our minds, is that all that we do should be grounded in prayer and guided by the desire to provide spaces and communities where people can be present to God and God to them and where people feel able to pray and worship together. In this, we all have our part to play.